The Double Standard

Elections are hardly fought on real issues. The best person always doesn’t get elected. But, the elected person is one who the people, as a whole, ‘deserve’ to lead them. The last US election was the best example of how people in even a developed country can be swayed by racial emotion. A ‘great wall’ – at a time when nations are opening up borders to the world – has fancied the minds of American public. In the current Uttar Pradesh election, the person of the stature of a Prime Minister made an issue out of electric supply during Eid versus in Diwali.

Meghalaya will be no different, in 2018 assembly elections. With parties brainstorming as to what to be made election issues next year, the controversy over proposed uranium mining has once again cropped up as a major issue in the state. The issue was dormant for years after the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) almost abandoned its plan to mine uranium in Meghalaya. UCIL had earlier identified uranium-rich areas in West Khasi Hills region and conducted exploratory drilling, which had led to massive protest. But a road project sanctioned by the Central government with an ‘objective’ to facilitate uranium mining has stirred the hornet’s nest once again. While a few groups belonging to the area wanted the road, others who thrive on promoting regional sentiment have opposed it. The latter had such huge support base that even political parties have joined the bandwagon.

At the centre of an irony is a senior politician, who made a volte face on the issue. Hispreaching Son Shylla, a newly-elected member of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), was the chief executive member of the Council in 2006 when the UCIL got clearance from KHADC to mine uranium. Shylla is now opposing uranium mining, tooth and nail! Shylla’s double standard has even caused embarrassment to his United Democratic Party (UDP). All regional parties including UDP are opposing uranium mining while the Congress and BJP kept a safe distance from the issue. Catering to the regional sentiment, the KHADC agreed to fund construction of the ‘uranium road’, in single lane, from a Central grant issued to the ADCs of the North-east. But the locals are pained that they are losing out on a double-lane road to be funded by the Centre. The local MLA Diosstarness Jyndiang has lent his support to a movement for the double-lane road with a condition that he does not support uranium mining. It remains to be seen how far the issue of road and uranium mining dominate the next year’s assembly election.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 22, 2017)

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Unclaimed Bodies

Till a few decades back, even a beggar or a mentally deranged person would have got, at least, some dignity after death. Locality people would have initiative to take care of the burial or cremation. The man or woman might have been ignored by the society for the whole life, but not after death. Now they are taken to the hospital, and to the dumping yard, after death. The municipality takes care of the burial (or dumping).

Of late there are several reports of bodies lying unclaimed in the Shillong Civil Hospital. While some of them are unidentified bodies, some of the deceased’s families hail from Shillong itself. They bring the person to the hospital, leave him there and never bother to come back. This prompts the hospitals to frequently issue notices requesting the relatives to collect the bodies, otherwise they would be given to the Shillong Municipal Board for ‘disposal’. Such a moral degradation in the society! Even the most useless person deserves some care from the family after the death.

While there is no way to correct the society at once, the government can do a lot in this regard. If a person has no family, he must have the government by his side. The government is feeding even the hardened criminals in jails. That’s why government is for – to ensure right to equality. This issue could be trivial for the local government – not at all lucrative to garner votes – to deal with. But, the government must understand the pain every sensible person goes through when he comes across instances of ailing people being left to die in hospitals by their own relatives. The more painful is the equally insensitive treatment of the body by the municipality. The municipality should not be blamed for it. Unless it is armed with proper government orders and wherewithal, the municipality cannot arrange for formal burial or cremation system. With gradual decline in social values, more and more people are likely to have undignified deaths, followed by dumping of their bodies. Should the government wait till such a time or get its act together so save the future embarrassment.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 18, 2017)

Tamil Disgrace

For an advanced state like Tamil Nadu, the new chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami is a poor choice. Palaniswami is a long-time loyalist and hence will be shadow of VK Sasikala, who has been convicted in corruption cases and put behind bars. Obviously, the chief minister of a state of nearly 8 crore people will be now be remote controlled from the high profile cell of Bengaluru jail! Does the state proud of speaking world’s one of the longest-surviving classical languages deserve to be headed by a puppet of a ‘criminal’! Such a fall from the days of J Jayalalithaa! Notwithstanding the fact that ‘Amma’ too would have been behind bars once again had she been alive, she was undoubtedly the tallest from the South for decades.

Tamils are an advanced race. From space science to agriculture to politics, people from the community have led the country on numerous occasions. Many of them like AR Rahman have even earned fame in the world stage. They all will now have to look up to a person like Panlaniswami, only know for loyalty to Sasikala, again only known for her loyalty to Jayalithaa, and nothing else. Political experience has not come into account at all! Only loyalty matters! Can Tamil Nadu expect good governance from this government?

The politics of Tamil Nadu has never been reflective of the state and for that matter the Tamils as a whole. Right from early seventies when MG Ramachandran shot to the helm of office, the state has seen superstars and their loyalists ruling the roost. Coincidentally, the superstars had the skill or earned it over the years to survive in politics. They had been so successful that there has been an impression that if Tamil Nadu has to be ruled with stability, it has to be led by a superstar. That’s why a recent comment by sexagenarian megastar Rajinikanth remotely suggesting his interest in politics has caused turmoil in political circles of Tamil Nadu. High emotion brewed from extreme and blind loyalty to individuals – be it MGR, Jayalithaa, Karunanidhi or now Sasikala – has been the driving factor of Tamil Nadu politics. Maturity as seen among Tamils as a race is far to be seen.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 17, 2017)

The Regional Trio

Ahead of the 2018 assembly elections, three politicians have emerged as champions of regional sentiment in Meghalaya, especially in Khasi-Jaintia Hills. Two are from different regional parties while one is a suspended member of Congress. The latter still held his cards leading to speculation if there would be another regional party in the state having 60 assembly seats. The trio, all known for stark their political differences, was recently seen together at a public meeting. The meeting urged them to have a unified voice, meaning a lot for the political circles to speculate for the next year’s polls.

Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) chief Ardent Basaiawmoit was once a radical student leader before joining the United Democratic Party (UDP) and then joining the HSPDP. He was known for leading many a high-voltage agitations on the streets of the city. Hispreaching Son Shylla, the former Congressman, has made a comeback to electoral politics by getting elected as a member of Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC). Shylla was known for awarding a family of 17 children, for “contributing towards protecting the Khasi race”. The biggest champion of the Khasi cause now is Pynshngain N Syiem, who singlehandedly resisted a move to ban MLAs holding elected posts in district council too. While Syiem is the current chief of KHADC the two others held the post earlier.

As of now, all the three star politicians are positioned at different political spectrums. There is no sign so far if all of them would have the same voice and give the ruling Congress a tough time. One thing is but clear that all are going to position themselves against the Congress. Possibility of BJP taking the chance to unite the voice of opposition (against Congress) is rife. However, PN Syiem, who commands a mass following, kept the political circles guessing by not opening his cards. He is too big a fish to be accommodated in present leading regional parties like HSPDP and UDP. He won’t risk his political career by joining the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM), another strong voice of Khasi-Jaintia aspirations. Existing leadership of UDP and HSPDP may be wary of bringing Syiem on board fearing loss of their own positions in the party. His other option is to take the BJP mantle, which is too big a risk in Christian-dominated Meghalaya.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 11, 2017)

The Jaya Void

Is it the beginning of the end to a grand old party of 45 years? Or is it a brief crisis the party is facing like in 1987-89, following the death of its founder MG Ramachandran, and before J Jayalalithaa (Amma) successfully took over for next three decades? If anyone has to win this AIADMK battle is VK Sasikala, not O Paneerselvam. Sasikala has the edge of carrying the image of Amma several times more than OPS. She may not be a film star, who people of Tamil Nadu love to see in the highest office, but she has the potential to dominate the party ranks like Jayalithaa did. Tamil MLAs would find it more difficult to accept OPS as an undisputed leader and bow before him as they did for Amma. For Sasikala, they might give it a thought.

The present turmoil in AIADMK reminded the 1987-89 crisis when MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran initially took over the party reigns, but finally lost it to Jayalithaa. The difference this time is there is no Jayalithaa to fight the battle of succession. Neither Sasikala nor OPS has that charisma to appeal to the public mind. Besides, unlike Jayalithaa, both don’t have the age on their side. History has it that only those, who held the reins at a relatively younger age, could make a mark and build an institution, movement. Notwithstanding the euphoria, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not have the age on his side. Rajiv Gandhi could have gone a long way in leading India, had it not been for his assassination in 1991.

The present political development in Tamil Nadu could be a signal of AIADMK’s downfall. It could also signal the birth of a third front in the state of 7.8 crore. The allegation of BJP gaining ground by instigating OPS is already there. DMK’s chance to fill the AIADMK stardom is very thin as for MK Stalin, his nonagenarian father M Karunanidhi’s shoes are still too big to fit him. AIADMK might survive this crisis by choosing between Sasikala and OPS, but it won’t be able to dominate the national scene any more. What Tamil Nadu thinks about national affairs may not be a matter for another few years or even decades.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 10, 2017)

Lessons from Nagaland

Nagaland is boiling over women’s 33 per cent reservation in municipal elections costing two lives so far. The elections scheduled for February 1 was deferred indefinitely. Ruling Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) and its ally the BJP are firm on going ahead with the polls in the already-decided format. It is the traditional bodies that are opposing reservation for women citing infringement of customary laws that are protected under Article 371(A).

Problems notwithstanding, the silver lining for the state compared to others in North-east like Meghalaya is that there is no opposition to municipal elections as a whole. Meghalaya is yet to hold its first municipal elections. Attempts made so far to hold the civic body polls were met with violent protests. The state’s elected representatives so far failed to convince the people about the need for holding such elections in a democracy. Only democratically elected bodies deserve to get Central funds. Meghalaya is too far from having such a system. No wonder Central authorities often find loopholes in utilisation of funds for civic amenities.

While at least two parties have agreed for 33 per cent reservation in municipal elections in Nagaland, the parties in Meghalaya have not even taken the courage to unanimously voice for holding the election. Let alone municipal bodies, traditional bodies are still a no-go zone for women in the ‘matrilineal’ Meghalaya. The state ‘proud of’ its system of mother’s lineage is facing the irony of not allowing women into the traditional Dorbar meetings. It’s a long way to ensuring democracy in urban civic bodies and then have women’s representation as per the law in Meghalaya. It’s also high time the elected representatives took lessons from Nagaland and at least convince their voters for holding the civic polls for the sake of transparency and development.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 4, 2017)

Prestige at Stake

Matrilineal Meghalaya has been rocked by cases of harassment, molestation and sexual assault – one after another. The cases involved bureaucrat, MLA, minister and even the governor. Shamed, the head of the state has already made his way out. The MLA admitted to police of sexually exploiting (rape) a minor girl, multiple times, before being arrested. The girl was rescued following her rape at a guest house registered in the name of the son of the state’s home minister. Despite demand, he refused to resign and promised a ‘fair probe’ in the incident. The case led to the arrest of 17 persons including the MLA. The girl also spoke about being taken to the home of another MLA, who refused to ‘take’ her. And now comes an incident of how the head of a state government department withheld the pay of a woman peon and transferred as she refused to stay in his quarter at night!

This is the situation, amid representatives from the state boasting about matrilineal system in forums outside the state. After all, Khasi-Jaintias and Garos are some of the very few tribes in the world practising matrilineal system. Women are held in ‘high esteem’ here. The prestige is at stake now, especially when high profile names are getting attached with such shameful incidents. Another few incidents, and Meghalaya will soon be known for crimes against women and not for the ‘wettest place on earth’ and the ‘cleanest village’ etc. Many Indians still have not even heard about the names of north-eastern states including Meghalaya. Now, next time if someone from Meghalaya goes out he might be greeted with questions – “Oh, I heard about Meghalaya. Isn’t it the state where the governor converted the Raj Bhavan into a ‘young ladies club’? I also heard about an MLA being arrested for raping a minor there?

It’s time the governor looked at the larger threat of losing its prestige of being a matrilineal society. Looking at the incidents separately will not help solve critical problem. Arrest of the particular criminals, shaming them and putting them behind bars are not the only solutions. It is a policy issue. There is an urgent need to bring necessary changes to government policies, acts etc. The fact that the woman employee in the soil conservation department was not aware of an in-house mechanism to address harassment on women at work place speaks volume of the government sincerity in this regard. The authorities concerned must put their heads together to chalk out a holistic strategy so that Meghalaya continue to be identified with Cherrapunjee (wettest place) and Mawlyngnong (cleanest village).

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 3, 2017)

‘Weird’ Governor

He was ‘weird’, but for pleasant surprise to many. V Shanmughanathan was a very accessible person, unlike other governors. He used to be very friendly with people, wherever he goes. A lot of people liked him due to his ‘simplicity’. Many of them even did not mind being asked by the governor to stand up during meetings and explain things. But, suddenly, the extrovert character of the former governor has become questionable, following the controversy over an alleged molestation of a job candidate and a letter sent to the Prime Minister with signatures of 98 employees of the Raj Bhavan.

At a programme of disabled persons, which also included a Padmashree awardee from the state, the governor had asked, ‘You have come to Raj Bhavan… Now tell me who want to have ‘samosa’ here, raise your hands.’ All had to raise their hands, to have the samosa. The Padmashree awardee, a visually disabled, was no exception. Sometimes he would not be satisfided with them raising hands and ask them to stand and explain. During a recent meeting in Manipur, Shanmughanathan asked intellectuals present there to write 100 words about the culture of Manipur! He would embarrass senior officials to explain irrelevant matters in public, much to the amusement of some in the audience. His apparent teaching attitude in every meeting was initially popular and appreciated. But the ‘care’ he showed proved hollow later. There has been no word of caution from Shanmughanathan, who belonged to the saffron camp, to the Congress-led state government in the past couple of years.

Be it the Centre’s prompt decision to remove him following the controversy or his own call, Shanmughanathan made the right move by resigning from the post. It is perhaps for the first time that a governor resigned on the Republic Day, that too on molestation charges. Even if all the allegations are incorrect, should have resigned in the wake of the serious allegations. And if there is any iota of truth, it was a serious breach of faith reposed on him by the Centre and given prestige attached to the office of the Raj Bhavan.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on January 28, 2017)

Bane of Bans

The whole Tamil world has come together to fight the ban Jallikattu, justifiably. You cannot just tell the biggest linguistic group which has a 5000 year civilisation to stop celebrating its festival. People like AR Rahman and Biswanathan Anand are not going to fight election. Their support to the protest against the! man suggests something seriously wrong with the order. These international celebrities do not care about Tamil votes! Being Tamil, they understand the festival in and out. Any ‘gross injustice’ to the bulls during Jallikattu could have made them either conveniently silent or oppose such ‘unjustifiable’ protests. Some of the methods adopted during the festival could be harmful to the animals, it cannot justify a total ban on the festival. The ‘animal lovers’ can seek rectification of those methods while still allowing the main sport to happen.

The ban is ironic too as there is still rampant sacrifice of animals in different parts of India in various religious festivals. Are they too on the PETA hitlist? During Durga Puja, thousands of animals and birds are sacrificed in Assam. Even the media went ga ga about one particular temple sacrificing as many as 45 buffalos on a single day. These are some really cruel religious practices still happening. But a ban is not the right solution in cases of religious practices. Ultimately, the law is for governing the people. If a law makes the entire population unruly, there is no use of such law. ‘Lawlessness’ is better.

Some things should be left to people’s own judgement. Even if the Sati Pratha (custom of woman sacrificing her life on the funeral pyre of her husband prevalent till 19 th century) would not have been banned by the British, no Indian woman would be either ready or could be compelled today to jump into the funeral pyre. The Pratha would have died its natural death as it was practised in only some parts of India. ‘Headhunters’ of Nagaland no more killing rival villagers! Animism is almost a forgotten practice in the hills of Northeast. Without any ban these practices stopped because they could not survive as their small world opened up to the rest. For that matter there was no law to compel people to wear clothes and graduate from hunting to farming. Let the conversion and transformation take its own time.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on January 21, 2017)

Rape Politics

It appears the demand for resignation of home minister HDR Lyngdoh over rape of a minor in his son’s guest house is futile. Resignation or removal of a minister from the post, which he gets after lot of ‘hard work’, is a rare case. A minister does not leave his chair until and unless it becomes legally bound for him. In this case, HDR is far away from legal implications. The guest house is ‘not owned by him’ but his son, a fresh graduate! Although an employee was arrested for trafficking the 14-year-old girl into the guest house, police are far from doubting the guest house management in the case. Let alone HDR or his son, police have not yet interrogated the Marlvene Inn manager, who was given a ‘clean chit’ by HDR. Now, if the home minister gives clean chit to a person, there is little scope left for the police to even think of interrogating him! Alleged malfunctioning of the CCTV is another insulation for HDR and his family in the case.

However, the demand raised by Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO) led by Agnes Kharshiing and Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR) led by Angela Rangad has sufficient ground. Being the home minister, he can influence the investigation as it was his son’s guest house where the girl was victimised last time. He said he has given free hand to police, and yet gave a clean chit to the guest house. Had the home minister’s name not been involved in the case, police would not have bought the story of ‘innocence’ now spelt out by the management. How can only one employee of the guest house be involved in such serious trafficking case without any green signal from the management? The ‘story’ given by HDR that the employee, a trusted one, sneaked in the girl into the guest house in absence of the manager at the counter at the reception for a while. Will the police buy such a story from any other person?

Yet, HDR may not be the coolest person at the moment. He runs the risk of political consideration by chief minister Mukul Sangma in view of the upcoming assembly election. The angry voice of public at a rally right beside the secretariat must have reached Mukul’s ears. If he decides to play a political masterstroke to appease the public for the sake of returning to power, HDR might be shown the door, even if the guest house story he has been playing is absolutely true.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on January 13, 2017)